Drudge Retort: The Other Side of the News
Sunday, June 17, 2018

The history of physics is filled with great ideas that you've heard of, like the Standard Model, the Big Bang, General Relativity, and so on. But it's also filled with brilliant ideas that you probably haven't heard of, like the Sakata Model, Technicolor theory, the Steady State Model, and Plasma Cosmology. Today, we have theories that are highly fashionable, but without any evidence for them: supersymmetry, grand unification, string theory, and the multiverse.

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Because of the way the field is structured, mired in a sycophancy of ideas, careers in theoretical high-energy physics that focus on these topics are often successful. On the other hand, choosing other topics means going it alone. The idea of "beauty" or "naturalness" has been a guiding principle in physics for a long time, and has led us to this point. In her new book, Lost In Math, Sabine Hossenfelder convincingly argues that continuing to adhere to this principle is exactly what's leading us astray.

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Yeah, why look for 'beauty' and 'naturalness'?

As quantum mechanics has taught us, the correct answer is 'weird', maybe with a dose of 'inexplicable', but the math says there is no way to prove that....

#1 | Posted by HeliumRat at 2018-06-17 09:04 AM | Reply

Quantum mechanics deals in probabilities, because ascertaining the position and momentum of a subatomic particle simultaneously is impossible. But the probabilities are well within 99.9% accuracy.

The reason it's impossible is because bouncing an electron or wave of electromagnetic energy (a photon of light) off the extremely tiny subatomic particle you're analyzing will alter its trajectory. But calculating the probable atomic orbitals is done with probabilities and works just fine. This uncertainty is called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

Heliumrat, if you're interested in this topic, wikipedia has an excellent article on it. Remember, when reading scientific articles, proceed slowly. Much of what is explained is considered in the intellect and not directly observable in the macroscopic world. Also, pop science articles that try to explain this to a layman are inconsistent. I suggest auditing a course at your local university called Advanced Inorganic Chemistry. I know for myself I was absolutely fascinated when it was taught to me, and that I could finally understand what all the hubbub was about.

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

#2 | Posted by madscientist at 2018-06-17 09:47 AM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

#2 Do you understand how and why energy levels must be quantized?

#3 | Posted by HeliumRat at 2018-06-17 10:06 AM | Reply

Yes. It's one of the basics in chemistry. They teach it to you in freshman inorganic chemistry and it is used throughout the rest of your scientific training.

Unfortunately, when I was in high school chemistry, we were taught the Bohr model of electronic orbitals. When I got to college, I had a hard time understanding at first the Heisenberg-Schrodinger theory, which is electron energy levels are not always in circular or spherical orbits.

This is what they actually look like: Electron Density Plots

In Advanced Inorganic Chemistry, we had to use the Schrodinger equation to plot in polar coordinates the electron densities of several molecules using quattro pro.

These probability densities are where the electron pairs actually are. When atoms bond to each other, they sometimes form what are known as hybridized orbitals. Such as double and triple bonded carbon atoms.

#4 | Posted by madscientist at 2018-06-17 10:35 AM | Reply

When light or electrons or some subatomic particles bounce off molecules or atoms, they impart energy from the moving particle's momentum. This excites the outer (valence) orbital's electrons into a higher energy state. This is explained with the HOMO/LUMO theory of molecular orbitals.

When an excited electron relaxes to its ground state, it generally gives off a photon of light or electromagnetic radiation. Which is why fire, stove elements, tungsten filaments, etc. glow.

HOMO/LUMO Theory of Molecular Orbitals

#5 | Posted by madscientist at 2018-06-17 10:41 AM | Reply

#5 - Nice to know that that part hasn't changed :)

Very clean and succinct explanation in #2 and #4. The Bohr model seems so over-simplified and inelegant.

The Hydrogen density plots beautifully illustrate the principle.

Thank you for posting that, MadScientist.

#6 | Posted by YAV at 2018-06-17 10:51 AM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

No problem, Yav. I just remember what it was like to not understand it, but wanting to understand it very much. And NOVA and other science programs weren't explaining it very well. I was lucky and had a professor who was a recent graduate of Texas A&M and his PhD was in Physical Chemistry. We spent almost the entire class of Physical Chemistry II on quantum mechanics. And he was still stoked to help students understand and hadn't gotten jaded by academia, yet. He was a building contractor before he went to college at 30 and got his PhD. So, he was a no-nonsense nuts-and-bolts guy.

#7 | Posted by madscientist at 2018-06-17 12:02 PM | Reply

#7 - What's so nice about it is you, and I assume he, don't confuse things by using the generic "Observer effect" wording, but go right to how an instrument effects a change. It's that simple next step that clarifies. Otherwise a student is left with "instruments" "analysis" and "observing" - and coming up with "how in the world would something I do every day mess up just seeing?"

On a more macroscopic level, sometimes I just pause in the kitchen and watch a dust particle drift into the beam of LED light (counter pendants) and take off downward in a blaze of speed.

#8 | Posted by YAV at 2018-06-17 12:51 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

Yep. Those packets of LED light are a "quanta" or envelopes of energy. Quanta means "how much." Light/electromagnetic energy has both properties of mass and energy that are packaged in discrete quanta. And the quanta are usually expressed in terms of energy. Sorry for the forwards, backwards, forwards exposition.

Everything you've wanted to know about quantum mechanics, but were afraid to ask.

#9 | Posted by madscientist at 2018-06-17 04:21 PM | Reply

Mathematics has provided mankind the ability to predict future behavior of things and systems we build. Math provides mankind a model of reality, but it is usually an approximation. Thus Newton's theory of gravity is an adequate model for precisely predicting the path of a baseball or a planet in orbit, until Einstein's theory of relativity is also required to reliably operate our GPS system.

A physicist was on PBS this weekend discussing that industries reliance on symmetry as a driving force in the development of modern physics theory. The search for truth in physic has become bound with notions of beauty and symmetry. During the discussion it was likened to good art and man's search for meaning. Moslem mosques were mentioned as some of the most magnificent examples of the human expression of symmetrical art.

The question is: is our concept of beauty and symmetry distorting our search for these fundamental truths? We don't know and may never know because an accelerator powerful enough to verify string theory would need to be the size of the universe and is never going to happen. Assuming theoretical physicists are honest people we have to assume that their mind boggling mathematics may still be useful if it provides some predictive value. But so far, that is not the case, and the cost of finding even a single violation of symmetry is now measured in tens of billions of dollars. There are, in fact, violations of symmetry in nature.

#10 | Posted by bayviking at 2018-06-18 07:31 AM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

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#7 - What's so nice about it is you, and I assume he, don't confuse things by using the generic "Observer effect" wording, but go right to how an instrument effects a change. It's that simple next step that clarifies. Otherwise a student is left with "instruments" "analysis" and "observing" - and coming up with "how in the world would something I do every day mess up just seeing?"

On a more macroscopic level, sometimes I just pause in the kitchen and watch a dust particle drift into the beam of LED light (counter pendants) and take off downward in a blaze of speed.

#8 | Posted by YAV at 2018-06-17 12:51 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

The dust movement there is most likely caused by air currents set up by the lights. The light pressure from lights like that is unlikely to be observable on something as large as a dust particle. More likely, the heat from the lights has set up a convection cell near the lights, or something else has set up some kind of air current there - AC/heat, change in the shape of the ceiling or walls, or something.

There is enough of it in space to matter, though. One of the proposed methods of space travel is with a "light sail". It had to be accounted for in calculating trajectories for long distance space probes as well. See this article for some information: Radiation Pressure (Wikipedia)

I am unable to read the article itself - Forbes doesn't seem to like me - but the statement that, for example, supersymmetry doesn't have any evidence for it isn't really correct. There is support for it, as it explains some things the standard model has difficulty with. At the same time, the discovery of the Higgs Boson has placed some strain on supersymmetry because it is fairly heavy for the model. Overall, I would class supersymmetry as still only a hypothesis, but I'm not really in the particle physics world. There are other hypothesis out there, but they aren't as able to explain as many of the disconnects with the standard model.

#1 - about QM telling us "weird" is the answer: I think you are misunderstanding what is meant by "beauty". QM is "beautiful" in its mathematics as well. The weirdness of QM is a directly predicted by the simple mathematics. Almost all of QM falls out of group theory with a few basic assumptions. That relationship wasn't necessarily what started the theory, but that is how it is expressed today. I remember finding it much easier to follow QM once I was taught "bra-ket" notation, as it made the connection with group theory and algebras much easier to grasp. Then again, I had courses in, and really enjoyed, abstract algebra and other abstract mathematics.

#11 | Posted by StatsPlease at 2018-06-18 01:12 PM | Reply

I wish I hadn't clicked on that article - the popups are overwhelming.

I have no idea what this thread is factually referring to - it's colorful?

#12 | Posted by redlightrobot at 2018-06-18 07:51 PM | Reply

The original title of the Forbes article is: Is Theoretical Physics Wasting Our Best Living Minds On Nonsense?

Short answer, yes. But it's good to keep extremely bright people busy thinking. So, it's worth it to the politicians.

The current theory, string theory, which has had documentaries and programs on PBS and NOVA for 20 years, has yet to have any of its predictions confirmed.

There's more interesting stuff in the reality of applied physics, engineering, chemistry, and biology than in the holy grail of intellectual theoretical physics. I suppose they keep doing specials on it because when people watch them, they think they're learning about the toughest topic in the universe or that Einstein and Stephen Hawking are cool.

That's my opinion, and like --------, I've got one as well.

However, now that Zat's gone, there's the lone last physicist here who I'd love to hear his opinion on it.

#13 | Posted by madscientist at 2018-06-18 08:14 PM | Reply

I remember watching NOVA in the 80s and not being able to wait to study chemistry, physics, calculus, geology, anthropology, biochemistry, etc. Something happened to PBS science programs in that they stopped teaching and started entertaining with baloney--sometime around 1999.

Gone were Timothy Ferris' astronomy and physics and James Burke's engineering and inventions with Connections.

In were the 10th cartoon of string theory.

#14 | Posted by madscientist at 2018-06-18 08:22 PM | Reply

"The current theory, string theory, which has had documentaries and programs on PBS and NOVA for 20 years, has yet to have any of its predictions confirmed."

I'm partial to the opinion that String Theory is such a poorly conceived notion that there's nothing it can't somehow find room to accommodate.

Apologies for not having the citation handy on that one.

"All models are wrong, but some are useful." --George Box

String Theory isn't useful yet.

#15 | Posted by snoofy at 2018-06-18 08:23 PM | Reply

No apologies necessary. I wanted your opinion.

#16 | Posted by madscientist at 2018-06-18 08:30 PM | Reply

I think it was a similar type article about 18 months ago. Probably talked about Penrose. Speaking of Penrose, I had high hopes for Orch-OR but now I'm leaning towards a more mundane explanation of "consciousness" just being the brain's process for filling the information gaps that you find in any complex system where one hand doesn't know what the other hand is doing. Cognitive dissonance is not really any different than our democratic process where you've got to pick a winner somehow, and we settle on one even though most of the electorate picked "none." In other words, no need to invoke quantum effects to explain how we handle missing data.

Actually, I think that's just me explaining Orch-OR to myself and leaving out the "quantum foam" part. And maybe there is something there. I need to finish Deane Kahnemans book "Thinking, Fast And Slow," it approaches the issue of what is consciousness from a much better angle in my opinion. That feels a lot more scientific to me than positing a quantum effect. You know how the neutrino was posited to exist a decade before it could actually be detected, as a wsy to explain the missing mass of a decaying proton (or however that goes). Orch-OR feels like that, but there's no missing mass to justify it. There's just Penrose's frustration that people aren't rational.

I saw him talk on The Emperors New Mind for three days at Cornell, I didn't get it then and I don't get it now. Alpha Zero can probably get it long before I ever do.

#17 | Posted by snoofy at 2018-06-18 08:53 PM | Reply

The dust movement there is most likely caused by air currents set up by the lights.

There is effectively no heat, nothing as you are suggesting anyway, especially at the distances used to observe the phenomenon. There are no air currents that would/could cause the observed behavior. There would be a torrent of air to cause the acceleration I am witnessing. You'd be talking about a significant downdraft. There isn't any.

The lights are intense LED. The lights are pointing down. The lights are nearly collimated. The dust particle drifts slowly and easily into the beam, where it's rapidly accelerated.

I had (hot) halogens there before with a broader beam. Those put out heat, and much infrared, but the light intensity wasn't like these. I love the change and the difference in behavior wrt these dust particles. Fun!

But hey, you have a hypothesis that is falsifiable, so there's that.

#18 | Posted by YAV at 2018-06-18 09:06 PM | Reply

Buffalo Bob lives!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

#19 | Posted by LauraMohr at 2018-06-18 09:09 PM | Reply

If a submarine with a nukulear(sic) bomb went to crush depth via a pressurized submarine, would it implode or explode upon reaching crush depth?

#20 | Posted by GOnoles92 at 2018-06-18 09:24 PM | Reply

The sub will implode, perhaps causing some of the Trident I or II missiles to explode.

#21 | Posted by madscientist at 2018-06-18 09:45 PM | Reply

The sub will implode...

I dunno... Looking at the question if the nuke armed submarine was travelling via pressurized submarine it would depend on whether the "crush depth" was referring to that of the nuke carrying sub or the host.

#22 | Posted by REDIAL at 2018-06-18 10:14 PM | Reply

depend on whether the "crush depth" was referring to that of the nuke carrying sub or the host. #22 | POSTED BY REDIAL

The question was posed to me in the form of "submarine is carrying a mini-sub/escape pod whichever has a nuclear bomb payload" then crush depth for the larger submarine.

My _guess_ is implosion, but he said it would explode because (in a nutshell) the internal system of the bomb is already highly pressurized. As the mini-sub crushes, it would activate the warhead... he could definitely be wrong tho 🤷🏻‍♂️.

Conversation was a few drinks in, but was an interesting thought experiment.

#23 | Posted by GOnoles92 at 2018-06-19 06:50 PM | Reply

the internal system of the bomb is already highly pressurized.

I don't see why it would be.

#24 | Posted by REDIAL at 2018-06-19 07:06 PM | Reply

"My _guess_ is implosion, but he said it would explode because (in a nutshell) the internal system of the bomb is already highly pressurized. As the mini-sub crushes, it would activate the warhead..."

Imma go ahead and guess there were no science majors involved in this conversation.

#MAGA

#25 | Posted by snoofy at 2018-06-19 07:38 PM | Reply

Guy worked defense R&D, according to him.

Any guesses on what would happen, snoofi?

#26 | Posted by GOnoles92 at 2018-06-19 09:34 PM | Reply

I think when they design nuclear warheads that are going on submarines, the eventuality that the submarine might sink is incorporated into the safety protocols.

#27 | Posted by snoofy at 2018-06-19 09:40 PM | Reply

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